Patients frequently come into my office excited about an early improvement in their pain. Some patients even feel pain-free within weeks, after suffering years of misery. The pure positive energy emanating from them is palpable and inspiring.
I’m always inspired by their story, but often some of my first words are, “I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you are going to experience more pain again and maybe as severe as it was. These pain circuits are permanent. But don’t despair!” The key is that by using the tools you’ll be learning to pull yourself back out of your pain state. With practice, you’ll dive into The Abyss less often and remain in for shorter periods of time. In the big picture, pain will assume a more normal role in your life and no longer be the center of it.
Many of us hold on to the idea that we can create a world for ourselves that has minimal pain and suffering. When adversity hits, we become upset because we feel it is unfair and shouldn’t be happening.
One of the ways we attempt to deal with adversity is to control and limit our stress. It is a viable strategy and it makes more sense than seeking out or creating problems. However, the result is that your world will become progressively smaller over time. You cannot control most of your stressors, and you certainly can’t outrun your mind. Paradoxically, your stress will increase as you try and avoid stress.
It is more rational to accept that what we term adversity is simply life. We will all die and most of us will experience major illnesses. We will have close family members that will suffer the same way. I am not going to go into detail about all of the small and large wrongs that happen to us personally and globally. They are infinite. So why would we expect that we will not be exposed to all of this?
Firing up Your Nervous System
The problem from a physiological perspective is that when we become frustrated at having to endure our tribulations we have now fired up our nervous system even more with stress hormones, which magnifies the physical response. These symptoms may include insomnia, obsessive thought patterns, body image issues, ringing in the ears, burning sensations throughout your body amongst over 30 symptoms. Anxiety, Anger, and Adrenaline
I have an additional problem is that I teach these principles of processing stress, including the stress of pain. When I get triggered and “fail”, I become incredibly upset that I am failing and I feel that I should be skilled enough that I should not be triggered. It is a double hit. As the pathways are deeply imbedded and severe I always have the same extreme bodily response, which includes a skin rash showing up on my wrists, I can’t sleep, my ears ring, and my feet start burning. Interestingly enough these symptoms often occur before I consciously feel stressed. I work backwards to figure out what the trigger might be and I often cannot solve it for a few weeks.
“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”
To be successful in any endeavor requires taking risks and experiencing the accompanying anxiety. If you are not willing to deal with those feelings, then it is probably not worth taking the risk. There’s a reason we say, “If you can’t take the heat then get out of the kitchen.”
When you “fail,” you are welcome to take some time to wallow in your feelings. It is critical not to suppress negative thoughts and emotions, but is also important to recognize what you are doing to yourself. After that, you have to forgive yourself, get back up, and move on. A more helpful saying is, “It doesn’t matter how many times you fall; it is the number of times you get up.”
When a bamboo grove is buffeted by a storm with high winds, the grove bends and then stands back up when it is calm.
It is not helpful for you to fight a sustained battle against something or someone that you cannot solve. When you are down, you are down, and it’s important to be okay with it, rather than being hard on yourself. No one is asking you to be happy when your circumstances are bad. But you also do not have to keep beating yourself up.
The essence of the DOC project is connected and engaged thinking through awareness. It is a process of learning how to fail and using your tools to get back up quickly. I am like everyone else in wishing that there was end to pain and stress. That is not life. Life keeps coming at you. Let go and live.